The Glass Menagerie: a Memory Play

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The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and Tom makes it clear from the beginning that we are seeing events through the lens of his memories, heightening emotions and drawing out significances as memories do. We are also privy, however, to memories within memories – the recollections of Amanda as she speaks of her girlhood, and her futile attempts to relive it. Even Jim is trapped in a cycle of memory, as he yearns to recapture the glory days of his high school career and becomes attached to those who remember him from that time. In the end, however, we are left with the haunting image of Tom's last memories, as he describes the figure of Laura following him through the rest of his guilt-stricken life.In the Production Notes to The Glass Menagerie, Williams writes disparagingly of the “straight realistic play with its genuine Frigidaire and authentic ice cubes.” Generally, Williams found realism to be a flat, outdated, and insufficient way of approaching emotional experience. As a consequence, The Glass Menagerie is fundamentally a nonrealistic play. Distortion, illusion, dream, symbol, and myth are the tools by means of which the action onstage is endowed with beauty and meaning. A screen displays words and images relevant to the action; music intrudes with melodramatic timing; the lights rise or dim according to the mood onstage, not the time of day; symbols like the glass menagerie are hammered home in the dialogue without any attempt at subtlety. The play’s style may best be described as expressionistic—underlying meaning is emphasized at the expense of realism. The play’s lack of stylistic realism is further explained by the fact that the story is told from Tom’s memory. As Tom puts it, the fact that what we are seeing is a memory play means that “it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music.”
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